Strategic Directions and Priorities for 2022-2023
Recent Progress Towards 2025 Strategic Goals
In early January 2020, I first heard the phrase “Covid-19” from Dr. John Drake of UGA’s Odum School of Ecology. He warned me that the United States would not escape the impacts of this disease and that if Covid-19 turned into a pandemic, it would dominate all our lives for several years to come. Dr. Drake was right; Covid-19 did become a pandemic, and it has impacted our lives for more than two years now. While coping with the pandemic as an organization, we have worked to support the University of Georgia’s operations in incredibly contingent times. We started the Fall 2020 semester with mostly hybrid courses, transitioned to face-to-face but socially distanced instruction in Spring 2021 (my class of 45 students met masked in a room that could seat 300), then pivoted again to largely face-to-face instruction in Fall 2021, with a good portion of our community vaccinated. During the most recent spring semester, instruction, student life, and daily UGA operations finally started to return to normal.
Today, as we look to the start of the 2022 – 2023 academic year, we look into the future with greater optimism and a stronger sense of control over our destiny. Though the future landscape will never look the same as in the fall of 2019, we are in a strong position to continue our work and take on new initiatives that improve the value of IT to the University. These opportunities will strengthen us as an organization and offer possibilities for professional growth. I appreciate your time in reading this narrative, where I will lay out the needs of our organization and our most important goals for the year ahead.
Let me start by saying thank you! Your efforts have been tireless, and your impact on the University’s community of students, faculty, and staff is without equal. Because of what you each do each day, our community can teach and conduct research; learn and grow; communicate, collaborate, and develop lasting relationships; and positively impact communities across the state. When visiting with deans or other leaders at our extended campuses, I always hear of the great service and commitment you bring to your work each day. People across UGA truly believe there is something special about collaborating with us, and I thank you for that. I’m proud to serve with you and be a part of our organization. Thank you again.
Key Indicators of Current Organizational Performance
Let’s talk about the current state of our core IT services. We administered the TechQual+ IT customer service satisfaction survey in spring 2021 and again in spring 2022. The data from this survey bear out in quantifiable performance indicators the strength and positive impact of our work.
The TechQual+ Survey does two things. First, it measures general customer sentiment, which is best understood as broad perceptions of the quality of our core IT services. These services include the Internet, wireless access, cellular access, data access, Web applications, collaboration tools, and prompt, courteous, and helpful customer support. Second, the survey measures IT service-specific satisfaction. We disaggregate the data by student, faculty, and staff populations, and we can disaggregate it further by college, school, or major administrative area when desired. There were 2002 completed surveys in spring 2022.
Overall, for 2022, students rated all 13 general sentiment questions positively (service meets minimum expectations), faculty rated 10 of 13 positively, and staff rated all 13 positively. Compared to 2021 data, the findings for students and staff are identical. For faculty, the ratings show an improvement from rating 9 of 13 positively in 2021 to rating 10 of 13 positively in 2022 (the one improved area for faculty for 2022 was online tools for collaboration). The last survey data collected pre-pandemic (2018) showed that students rated 12 of 13 items positively, faculty rated 2 of 13 items positively, and staff rated 10 of 13 items positively. The positive trend for faculty is impressive, and the general sentiment of faculty toward core IT services has improved substantially since the pandemic started. This reflects the tremendous investment we’ve all made in IT support and training for faculty over the last two years. The positive impact of these efforts goes beyond our organization and includes similar Units in our schools and colleges and other Units like the Center for Teaching and Learning. Well done!
Regarding specific services, for 2022, the five highest rated EITS services (either moderately or extremely satisfied) were: UGAMail (80%), Zoom (79%), ArchPass (76%), VPN (75%), and the EITS Helpdesk (74%). These are extremely high satisfaction ratings. Even the five worst faring EITS services had acceptable “moderate” or “extremely satisfied” ratings: WEPA Kiosks (54%), OneSource Financials (54%), Kaltura (52%), vLab (51%), and Athena (51%). Overall, these high satisfaction ratings from end-users speak to the high quality, strong usability, and effectiveness of the IT tools and services we provide to the UGA community. These quantifiable performance indicators match the positive comments about our work that I have received from so many. Again, well done, everyone!
Our Most Important Resource(s) – Our Talent and People
As I look across my team of direct reports and the individuals who report to them, I’ve never been more confident about our talent levels and the talent pipeline. All of you collectively have allowed us to serve the University’s missions so well while simultaneously creating the right type of environment for people to advance their careers with us. We have not escaped the “Great Resignation;” currently, we have approximately 40 vacancies out of 240 full-time positions. Our turnover rate has doubled over the last two years to about 20% annually. However, there are indications now that turnover is slowing (we even have a handful of individuals who left and then asked to return to their previous jobs). Our strategy is to continually develop a talent pipeline with a range of individuals who can fill vacancies as they occur. This is the right way to respect and reward our employees, and it provides a better foundation for strong teams and greater diversity throughout our organization. We are invested in supporting you in your professional development so that you can aspire to work for us and have a progressive career here. Your personal and professional growth adds additional value to the organization and allows us to make progressively greater contributions to the university community over time. Since 2021, 45 of our employees (almost 25%) have been promoted. Of my ten direct reports, nine have progressed their careers similarly, and six are on their second or third promotion. I prefer internal promotions for higher-level positions; it’s much better to promote existing team members than to make external hires. External hires, in my view, should be limited to the entry levels of our organization. While there’s not always a place for people to advance when ready, we have a strong track record of developing and promoting individuals. I’m 100% invested in this approach, and you can count on this being our talent development philosophy as long as I lead this organization. Our people and our talent pipeline are our greatest and most important assets.
We’ve made considerable progress on the issue of salary equity this past year, but there is more work to be done. Every year, when President Morehead advocates for resources with the governor, the General Assembly, the regents, and the chancellor, salary increases for faculty and staff are his first item. This year, they have been generous with their support for salary increases: every one of our almost 200 full-time employees on April 1st received a $5000 salary increase, dated back to July 1, 2021. Beyond that, the University has also provided additional equity-based salary increases for 154 of our employees (almost 75%!). Overall, these are record increases in salary this year. When considered along with the 45 promotions, this has been the most generous year for salary increases I’ve seen in my almost 20 years of working in higher education. But it’s not enough; I get that, and I believe that, as does President Morehead. I’m cautiously optimistic that, provided economic growth continues, the University will strive to continue salary increases in future years.
Our Second Most Important Resource(s) – Our Budget and Financial Resources
You will remember that our budget was cut in July of 2020 (FY21) by 9%, which translated to $1.35M. We were able to make cuts without impacting employees or vacant positions. For the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2022 (FY23), the University has restored $1.26M, meaning most of the FY21 budget cut has been restored. However, these new budget increases are very targeted: $760K for the $5000 cost of living adjustments for full-time staff, $129K for salary equity adjustments, and $335K for increased software and hardware maintenance and services costs. While the University has been incredibly generous with additional base-budget support for our work, because these increases are targeted, they do not necessarily restore the budget flexibility we enjoyed before the pandemic.
The pandemic negatively impacted our capacity to self-fund critical IT projects substantially. Beyond the $1.35M in budget cuts, we also returned $2M in one-time funding to the University on June 30, 2020 (FY20). Together with the $1.35M budget cuts in FY21 and FY22, those monies equaled $4.8M, which reduced our internal capacity to self-fund projects. Again, the central administration has been incredibly generous to us. A year ago, the institution provided us with an additional $2.7M in funding to support the central firewall replacement. This year, the institution provided us with an additional $2M in funding to support upgrades and expansions of the Georgia Advanced Computing Resource Center. Thus, the institution has restored amounts to us almost equal to the amounts cut over two years.
Thus, beginning July 1, 2022 (FY23), our level of financial resources is close to where it was before the pandemic. Overall, that’s better than almost any other IT organization across the SEC conference of universities. I am so grateful to the president, the provost, and the vice president for finance and administration for their very generous support of our work. They know we remain very good stewards of financial resources and that a dollar invested in our work reaps multiple dollars in value for the University’s teaching, research, and service missions. This is not to say that we don’t need to look for ways to achieve greater efficiencies, eliminate redundancies and duplication, and use the leverage of scale to stretch our budget further – we do. One of our goals for the next few years will be to continue to look for ways to cut costs so that we can restore greater flexibility and grow the amount of funding we have each year for both projects and professional development.
Goals and Plans for Next Year
While our resources (talent + budget) are stronger, we must continue to guard the scope of our services and commitments carefully. Taking on redundant, ineffective, and inefficient work is worse than a budget cut because it commits us to work with no increase in available resources. It stretches us and breaks our scale; it destroys our leverage and increases the number of “one-off” pieces of work that saps our strength.
We have done a good job of standardization and creating leverage and scale for the University, and we’ve done so by setting priorities and sticking with them. For major initiatives and new projects, our priorities for next year are as follows. For the teams involved in these efforts, we need to avoid additional commitments above and beyond normal support operations.
The Banner SIS team will be working tirelessly on a two-year rollout of the “Course in Program of Study” functionality. These capabilities will help ensure that federal financial aid is properly applied only to courses on a student’s degree plan. Today, those checks are done manually. This new automation will eliminate the waste of human effort and manual compliance checks in the Office of Financial Aid. The program requires a substantial rework of our programs of study in DegreeWorks and streamlined business processes for managing degree programs across UGA’s schools, academic departments, and colleges. This initiative is stakeholder-led, and we are working closely with the Vice President for Instruction, the Office of the Registrar, and the Office of Financial Aid. The project aligns with our strategic goal #4.
For our teams supporting PeopleSoft HCM and Finance, we will devote some effort to serving as a resource and key influencer to the University System of Georgia (USG) as they evaluate our readiness to join the State of Georgia’s next-generation Cloud ERP initiative. The governor has suggested that USG join the State of Georgia in the shared use of a single instance of cloud-based finance, human capital management, and supplier/purchasing system, as is currently done in the State of Iowa. We will work to be advocates and enablers of the team at USG that is on point for an assessment of these systems and planning. This project aligns with our strategic goal #2.
Our research support teams in networking, systems operations, and the GACRC will be working on upgrading the SAPELO2 cluster to better support computational research and provide additional capabilities for new faculty hired under the University’s artificial intelligence and machine learning hiring initiatives. Thus far, the University has committed $2M for this expansion, which is matched with $385K of our year-end funds and an additional $2.5M of our cost-recovery reserves to upgrade the electrical power infrastructure in the Boyd Data Center. Support of computational research is a shared responsibility of our organization and leadership from the Vice President for Research, and this priority aligns with our strategic goal #3.
These three projects are our most important initiatives for the next year. There are always other priorities for my office and direct reports, which are critical to our future success. Here are some of my goals for my team this next year.
Support and encourage the development of the University Council’s new standing committee on IT. Use this faculty and student body to sharpen our vision for improving and expanding our core IT services while allowing considerable influence over our day- to-day operations and initiatives (strategic goals #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, and #5).
Search for and install new leadership over the Office of Institutional Research and internally over our finance and administration organization. In appointing new leadership, it will be critical to build upon our existing strengths to allow these vital offices to continue positively impacting our work and the University’s work in progressively important ways (strategic goal #4).
Search for and install new leadership (replacing Michael Lucas) over areas supporting faculty research, including the GACRC and HPC resources. To the degree possible, identify a new leader who can bring experience and perspective as a successful researcher to our leadership team (strategic goal #3).
Work with and through the STF advisory committee and other groups to continue to provide one-time and base budget support for IT services and systems that facilitate next-generation teaching and learning environments (strategic goal #1).
Finally, my team of direct reports and I will be working to identify ways to regain much of the budget flexibility we enjoyed pre-pandemic. We will be looking for ways to reduce or eliminate unnecessary management overhead, duplicative services, and externally-sourced software and services that no longer fit our present and future needs. Our work on a next-generation telephone and voice communications system and our efforts to identify ways to operate without VMware products are just a few examples in this space. Beyond that, you can expect some tweaks to the org chart for next year to allow us to take greater advantage of the talent within while building greater depth for supporting our core campus services.
Thank you for your contributions to the good news contained in this report. After everything we have been through since the Spring of 2021, we are emerging from the pandemic stronger, more resilient, and more focused on the core things we do to help make the University of Georgia a very special place. Please reach out to me when I can be helpful to you, either professionally or personally.